Driving from Mandawa to Bikaner
The journey from Mandawa to Bikaner is listed as taking just over 3 hours, at around 188km, but with a few detours to some sights along the way we arrived six hours after we departed. We had left Mandawa at 9am that morning, and on arrival in the city, we rejected the first hotel we viewed at 1000 Rp a night as it had ridiculously high WiFi charge and grotty rooms too.
We decided to stay at The Sagar Hotel in Bikaner, after some serious negotiations on the room rate, which involved the Hotel Manager and our driver. Why can nothing ever be simple!
We got a room which was reasonable and had a TV, a bath and hot water with breakfast thrown in for 1200 Rp. The restaurant rates were not too pricey so we ditched our backpacks and went off to see the fort.
While not as impressive on the outside as some we had seen on our travels so far, the real beauty here lies within. The courtyards and maze like passageways through the fort will lead you into bejewelled rooms with elaborately decorated high ceilings.
There is also a museum in the final few rooms of your visit where you can view old weapons in the form of muskets, guns and a rather severe looking set of hand knives and scimitars. There is also a model of a early 20th century fighter plane fully assembled in one of the last rooms on the visit. Apparently this is made up of the salvaged remains of two World War II planes that the Maharajah rescued back in the day and were pieced together to make a restored display in the 1980’s.
Entrance to the fort is 200 Rp, but you will also be offered an array of additional tickets to bonus treats which were all poorly explained so we said no to them all. We don’t know what the extras were but we managed to get everywhere without being refused entry because we didn’t have the right tickets.
After the fort the driver also took us to see a miniature portrait gallery, it was a gallery of miniatures rather than a gallery you had to squeeze into. Apparently one of the artists here holds the world record for the most leaves painted on a tiny picture. You can gaze at the official letter from the Guinness Book of Records as you try and drown out the sales pitch from the artist in front of you imploring you to buy one of his miniatures that he has laboured over for hours.
The only interesting bit was to discover that one of the yellow colours, used in the minute painting world, is derived from concentrated cow urine. Apparently the poor beast is dehydrated before the deep yellow liquid is collected to be crystallised for use in paintings. Thankfully this is not commonly used nowadays.
Things to do on the way to Bikaner
On our way we visited the Karni Mata or Rat Temple. Don’t be surprised then when you arrive to be overrun with rats, they are here for a reason and not simply because of a lack of pest control. We were told it is lucky to have one run over your feet (easy if you stand still given the numbers running about the temple) and even luckier if you managed to spot one of the white rats. In fact the white rats are a light tan colour, but we did spot one and I had a grey one run over my feet as I was snapping the picture of its
white tan coloured brother. Does this good luck karma work in multiples then, am I triply lucky if these two events occurred at the same time?
The Lonely Planet suggest that the reason for the rats is so:
“According to legend, Karni Mata, a 14th-century incarnation of Durga, asked the god of death, Yama, to restore to life the son of a grieving storyteller. When Yama refused, Karni Mata reincarnated all dead storytellers as rats, depriving Yama of human souls.”
The Ghee Temple was our second stop before entering the city proper, unlike the rat temple you don’t get what you expect. No butter baths or ghee slides to contend with. It looks just like your average temple and is made of marble and stone. It is reasonably pleasant to look at but the interest lies in an ancient tale. The story here goes that instead of water to mix the base for the foundations 40,000 Kg of butter was used. In the summer it is claimed that the butter seeps up through the stones. We were there in winter so cannot confirm this claim.
More Hassles with Hotels and Mysterious Taxes
Our whistle stop tour over we tried to order something to eat in the hotel restaurant. As the prices seemed reasonable John did his usual twenty questions before ordering to ensure that there were no additional taxes or service charges on the menu prices, it turned out there wasn’t, “no” came the reply “all included”.
It was only when we finished ordering with a different waiter that he then announced there was an additional 14% to add to the published prices. We declined the order and went over the road to the Rendezvous Restaurant instead, and had a great meal of Rajasthani local dishes, one mutton and one veggie, and sipped a couple of beers that John had halved the initial quoted price on.
Next day at checkout the hotel again mysteriously added tax on the room charge which had been confirmed the day before as being included. After an almighty row, this was deducted from our bill. Our blog posts may have sounded a bit grumpy of late, but this kind of thing can really exasperate you sometimes. It is not the extra 80 Rupees charge but the sly, conniving way in which these extras are added.
We know these type hotels couldn’t give a damn about customer service and their trip advisor reputations as, like the night we were here, there were over 25 tourist taxis in the parking lot for the night. We know we are getting OK prices at these places (we are coming in at least 30-40% lower than on-line booking rates, and paying far less than everybody we’ve spoken with) but the services and sly tricks are the cost you pay. Also the stretching of your patience with it all, which for both of us now is at breaking point so the driver may will be getting a right royal rollicking today.
Bikaner did not really impress us much, it was not just the hotel, the sights are a little underwhelming so if you are pressed on your Rajasthani tour this is one place I would skip, you really wont be any the poorer. Oh and if you spot a hotel car park full of white taxis, keep on moving to your next hotel choice, the customer service is guaranteed to be atrocious.